Henry Clay Ward

Date of Birth

Sept. 10, 1843

Date of Death

Nov. 16, 1925

Letters Authored


Letters Received


Henry Clay Ward was born 180 years ago.
97 years ago, Henry Clay Ward passed away at the age of 82.

Letters Authored in Collection


General Henry Clay Ward’s career as a soldier was remarkable. He served from the beginning of the Civil War to its end and was engaged in numerous battles, wounded multiple times; he was present at Gettysburg when his brother, Colonel George Hull Ward (see image 1) was killed; he was a POW at Libby Prison, obtained the rank of captain before the War ended, and before he retired from the army in 1905 had risen to the rank of Brigadier General. When he died in 1925, he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Henry Ward enlisted when he was eighteen in the 15th Massachusetts Regiment on 7 July 1861 as a private, where he saw action at Ball’s Bluff, the Peninsula Campaign, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Gettysburg. He was commissioned on 26 March 1864 as a First Lieutenant with the 57th Massachusetts where he saw action during the Wilderness Campaign, at Spotsylvania Court House, North Anna River, Cold Harbor, and Petersburg. He was listed as wounded on 17 September 1862 at Antietam, again on 12 May 1864 at Spotsylvania Court House, and again on 17 June 1864 at Petersburg. He was captured at Fort Stedman, Virginia on 25 March 1864 and confined to Libby Prison where he was exchanged 4 April 1865.

Henry C. Ward wrote this four page letter to his friend, Charles D. Tucker, from Poolesville, Maryland shortly after the battle of Ball’s Bluff in which the 15th Massachusetts was heavily engaged and was forced to retreat down a tall bluff into the Potomac River. The letter provides an extraordinary description of his escape as he swam across the river while the Confederate soldiers fired into the water hitting some of his fellow soldiers while others drowned. He also writes that his brother (George H. Ward) was recuperating in a private home in Poolesville after the amputation of his left foot. Two other details of this letter are quite interesting. First he describes walking with two other soldiers, when one of them, Willie Grout, was shot and killed by a Minnie ball to the back of the head. The description of the soldier’s death by Ward and the subsequent description of the disposition of his body match all known facts about the 15th Massachusetts’ Lieutenant Willie Grant, the soldier whose death at Ball’s Bluff inspired the popular Civil War song, “The Vacant Chair.” The second detail of interest is that Ward briefly mentions the controversy that surrounded the battle of Ball’s Bluff in which Colonel Edward E. Baker, a senator from Oregon and friend of Abraham Lincoln, blundered by sending troops across the Potomac into what turned out to be a rout for the union forces. General Charles P. Stone, the Division commander was subsequently blamed for what was likely Baker’s inexperience and jailed for several months over the affair. The incident led to the creation of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of War. In the letter, Henry Ward clearly takes the side of Colonel Baker.

Henry Clay Ward was born 10 September 1843 in Worcester, Worcester County Massachusetts. Henry Clay Ward’s parents were Artemus Ward (b. September 1796, d. 17 May 1857) and Hulda P. Reed (b. 1811, d. 27 June 1854). In the 1850 Census, Henry, 7, is listed as living with his parents and the following children: George, 23, Caroline, 28, Charley, 15, Samuel, 5, Sarah, 3, and Frederick, 3, and Mary Ward, 7 months. Also living in the household was Barry Mc Mullen, a laborer, 18 and Ann Bunn, 12. By the time Henry was fourteen both of his parents were dead. Henry, 16, is enumerated in the 1860 Census as living with Calvin P. and Mary W. Haynes in Milford, Worcester County, Massachusetts. Calvin Haynes is listed as a carriage maker and Henry as a carriage trimmer, the same occupation he listed upon his enlistment into the 15th Massachusetts. There is a Charles D. Tucker, 16, enumerated in the 1860 Census living in Worcester, Worcester County, Massachusetts whose occupation is given as an apprentice wheelwright. This is likely the friend Henry Ward is writing to, but there is no confirmation of that. On 12 Feb 1867 Henry, married Susan Maria Denny. They had two children, Arthur Sprague Ward, born 28 July 1869 and Anne Denny Ward born in 1872. Henry’s wife, Susan died on 2 January 1873. He was remarried on 6 Dec 1876 to Frances Crutcher Maney of Nashville, Tennessee.

"On the night of October 20, 1861, a patrol from the upstream crossing spotted what appeared to be rows of Confederate tents in the fields behind Ball's Bluff. The densely wooded cliff was halfway between Edwards' Ferry and Conrad's Ferry (now known as White's Ferry), rose a rocky 100 feet above the Potomac bank, and overlooked Harrison Island, a narrow island about three miles in length in the center of the narrow river. Sensing opportunity, Stone ordered a detachment of the 15th Massachusetts Infantry under Colonel Charles Devens to raid the camp early the next morning, Monday October 21. After sending a messenger to Stone with news the "tents" were merely moonlit reflections from rows of trees, Devens and his green battalion of 300 Union soldiers stayed on the southern bank of the river awaiting further orders.

Stone's written instructions to Baker ordered that additional forces under Baker's command be crossed to the Virginia side, or completely withdrawn at Baker's discretion, depending on the situation. Instead of crossing to the bluff personally to evaluate his tactical options, Colonel Baker immediately chose to cross his entire force, and for some hours personally supervised the lifting of boats from the nearby Chesapeake and Ohio Canal to assist his river crossing.

Devens's command had been facing increasingly stiff resistance all morning from elements of the 17th Mississippi infantry. Additional Union battalions crossed all day using the makeshift flotilla made available. Baker himself crossed after 1:00 p.m., and saw his chances for a glorious victory. Evans continued to deploy additional troops against the Ball's Bluff crossing, while screening the Edwards' Ferry crossing with a single company.

Colonel Baker was killed by gunfire about 5:00 p.m., and as darkness fell Union command eventually broke down under sustained and enthusiastic Confederate volleys. Many of the Union soldiers were driven over the steep bluff and into the river. Boats attempting to cross back to Harrison Island were soon swamped and capsized; a disturbing number of the casualties resulted from drowning and dead bodies floated as far downriver as Washington in the days following the battle. More than 500 Union prisoners were captured on the banks of the Potomac later that night."

I would like to thank Bob Ducharme, historian of the 15th Massachusetts, for providing me with information on the Ward letter, particularly in pointing out the Willie Grant connection. In addition, I would like to thank David H. Ward, the great grandson of Colonel George Hull Ward and his son Bob, for their information and gracious offer to provide me with additional information. Finally, I would like to thank Susan L. Harnwell who has simply produced the best Civil War site for a regiment that I have ever seen and without which; I might not have identified the author of this letter. All the folks associated with the preservation of the history of the 15th Massachusetts seem to be a very special lot.

The 15th Massachusetts website: http://www.nextech.de/ma15mvi/